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#2391319 - Yesterday at 04:42 PM Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano?
jixe Online   content
Junior Member

Registered: 03/13/11
Posts: 2
I am in need of some basic advice please.
I understand that reproducing anything exactly is nigh on impossible and that the only way to get the exact sound of an acoustic is to play an acoustic. But what I am wondering is.. if I use say Vintage D ( which I have) or American D (which I thinking of buying) , is the end result mostly dependent on my PC/sound card/headphones or on the samples themselves? I would love to be able to reproduce the lovely ringing tones of an acoustic Steinway but whether in my setup or listening to demos I get the impression that something is missing - maybe higher harmonics or as the result of compression? It just sounds flat.
I have a PC system greatly in excess of minimum requirement specified but which uses Intel onboard sound. I am able to set any ASIO4ALL buffer size/number I like without any problem with dropout or latency.
Would an eternal sound card help at all? I am loathe to spend a lot of money on a new sound card or headphones if it will not help.
I am using a FP-7F as controller and Roland headphones (£50 only)

I'd be grateful for any advice you may be able to offer. Thanks.

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#2391328 - Yesterday at 05:08 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
ElmerJFudd Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 01/07/10
Posts: 205
The closest we are able to get currently to reproducing the sound of an acoustic piano is via the use of actual recordings of a piano (sampled) or by using a mathematical model of what happens when a felt hammer strikes a string inside of a wooden box (modeling).

Two of the most popular products of late are Ravenscroft 275 (a multi-sampled piano and Pianoteq 5 (a modeled piano).

It is generally felt that making many and large recordings of a piano at various volume levels key by key produces a sound that is more similar to a real piano. However, mathematical modeling is thought to do a better job or producing variations in sound that naturally occur in an acoustic instrument.

I would suggest listening to demos of both kinds and where possible installing a demo or trial version to play and hear for yourself. In many cases and situations you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a recording of a sampled piano and a recording of a piano. However, in solo play - where we are able to listen for tell tale signs of mimickry - a discerning listener of course can point out the differences.

The software solutions are currently offering better specs and reproduction than most of the digital pianos on the market (although not all). And yes... your listening environment and sound reproduction equipment will play a large part in how "good" things sound.

At minimum a proper pair of headphones is required. Even when using the on board audio card in your PC. Here is a guide on how to select the appropriate headphones for your listening pleasure. Full range of sound reproduction within human hearing is critical (look for phones that reproduce at least 20htz-20khtz, are comfortable to wear for long periods of practice, and that YOU think sound good - so try them if you can).

A better sound card than the stock chipset on your motherboard may improve sound quality for a discerning listener because one may have better digital to analog conversion and a better headphone amplifier. Plus, it may be able to function at a higher sample rate, at least matching the sample rate that the sampled piano was recorded at so there is no sample rate conversion happening. Ravenscroft 275 when installed in full is 35gb uncompressed. The download version is 6gb because it compressed in lossless FLAC format. FLAC is not a lossy compression format, so the only difference between the two would be CPU processing requirement.

Then, if you tire of wearing headphones you would consider a proper pair of powered monitors which should be selected with just as much care and attention to detail. They should be the right size for your room, be mounted at the right height and away from the wall, and separated from what they are mounted on using isolation pads.

How deep you get into this depends upon how picky you are. And there are plenty of picky people here, so no doubt others will have opinions to share.





Edited by ElmerJFudd (Yesterday at 06:48 PM)

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#2391330 - Yesterday at 05:12 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
maurus Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/11
Posts: 934
Sound is indeed quite dependent on the audio chain (digital to analog converter, headphone amp, the headphones themselves). The PC itself, not so much if basic specs are right. We don't know what quality soundcard and which headphones you are using, thus it is difficult to be sure. A high quality external soundcard/headphone amp, and high quality headphones may indeed improve the quality.

Of course the whole setup (from the keys to the headphones) contains a lot of variables which may contribute to subjective frustration. Latency, or inadequate key actions and/or touch curves, may be culprits as well. Tell us a little more about your setup.

And yes, if you want the full impression of an acoustic, play an acoustic.

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#2391365 - Yesterday at 06:45 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: ElmerJFudd]
Kawai James Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/06/07
Posts: 10071
Loc: Hamamatsu, Japan
Originally Posted By ElmerJFudd
Ravenscroft 275 when installed in full is 35gb uncompressed. The download version is 6gb because it compressed in lossless FLAC format. I personally think you'd have to A/B the two for a while without knowing which is in FLAC and which isn't to test if you can tell the difference 6 out of 10 times.


I'm not sure I understand this point. FLAC compressed samples will sound identical to uncompressed samples. It's not necessary to A/B the two because the data - once played by the controller and output through the computer - is the same.

James
x
_________________________
Employed by Kawai Japan, however the opinions I express are my own.
Nord Electro 3 fan & occasional rare groove player.

"Richard, none of us could forget you have a CLP-990." - EssBrace, 2014

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#2391367 - Yesterday at 06:50 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
ElmerJFudd Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 01/07/10
Posts: 205
My apologies, I was covering a lot of questions. FLAC is not a lossy compression format. Only difference would be CPU requirements to play back. Edited for accuracy and clarity.

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#2391384 - Yesterday at 07:23 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
Kawai James Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/06/07
Posts: 10071
Loc: Hamamatsu, Japan
Thanks for the clarification Elmer!
_________________________
Employed by Kawai Japan, however the opinions I express are my own.
Nord Electro 3 fan & occasional rare groove player.

"Richard, none of us could forget you have a CLP-990." - EssBrace, 2014

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#2391385 - Yesterday at 07:25 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
dire tonic Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1738
Loc: uk south
- off the top of my head, two reasons,

* no one's got the sampling quite right yet. It's close but there's always something overlooked and, even with feedback from users and beta-testers, I fear the developers run out of steam and do the minimal repair work and debugging rather than instigate an overhaul of their first effort....which is often what's required.

* the sound stage from monitors and headphones - even the best of their kind - isn't the same as would be experienced from the expansive, resonating wooden soundboard found in acoustic pianos.

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#2391391 - Yesterday at 07:40 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
Charles Cohen Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/26/12
Posts: 1698
Loc: Richmond, BC, Canada
I think the first thing I'd upgrade (and what might make the most difference) would be the Roland headphones. There are many "What's the best headphone?" threads here already. You'll probably spend more than 50 pounds on a new pair.

The second thing would be the computer's internal sound card. External "audio interfaces" -- e.g. the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or 2i4 -- are reputed to give audibly better results. [I'm still using my internal sound card -- just stubborn, I guess.]

There's lots of discussion of "Is an external interface better than the built-in soundcard?" on the Pianoteq user forum, which is accessible to everyone:

http://www.forum-pianoteq.com/viewforum.php?id=1

. Charles

PS -- I use Shure SE215 earbuds, and Sennheiser HD-280 headphones. The Sennheiser HD-380 phones are reported to be better than the HD-280. Choice of headphones is very subjective.

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#2391402 - Yesterday at 08:06 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
anotherscott Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/20/10
Posts: 3596
I would say that once you have eliminated latency as an issue, I think the benefit of a different interface is questionable, and the benefit of a different computer is non-existant. OTOH, different headphones (like different speakers) can make a huge difference.

Though on a side notes, has anyone ever gotten a really authentic vibe through headphones? I wonder if they can ever match what you can get through speakers, even if only because of the way you can get real room reflections with speakers (as you would with an acoustic).

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#2391406 - Yesterday at 08:25 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
ElmerJFudd Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 01/07/10
Posts: 205
I'm not sure, Scott. I've been hunting for a good audio interface for a long time, and been through a lot. They all sound different, and for sure there were some I preferred over others. AD conversion, sample rate and quality of headphone amp as well as what's being delivered at the monitor outs can be very noticeable. When I'm working on a mix/master these days I use several headphones as well as speaker types for comparison - from the cr@ppiest to the best I can get my hands on to make sure it all translates well. At some point your comparing minute differences, but not in the basics. I've never got desirable audio quality from a motherboard's stock audio interface, worse on laptops than desktops generally speaking.


Edited by ElmerJFudd (Yesterday at 08:28 PM)

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#2391459 - Yesterday at 11:24 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: anotherscott]
Macy Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/09/10
Posts: 637
Originally Posted By anotherscott
IThough on a side notes, has anyone ever gotten a really authentic vibe through headphones? I wonder if they can ever match what you can get through speakers, even if only because of the way you can get real room reflections with speakers (as you would with an acoustic).


I'm always amazed when people suggest using headphones as a primary option. The only way to get a realistic sound of a piano (or orchestra for that matter) using headphones requires binaural recording. Binaural recording is the process of embedding microphones in the ear canals of a dummy head and placing that dummy head in the acoustical environment (a hall, theater, living room, ... whatever) that you wish emulate. In practice its more complicated than it sounds because the microphone characteristics have to be designed to capture a flat response in an unusual acoustic "ear canal chamber" and the headphones must also provide a flat response to the ears (which is not the goal of many headphones). But research over decades has shown proper binaural recording to produce superb results when using the proper techniques and equipment.

Binaural recordings generally sound awful when played back over high quality speaker systems because the recordings contain the acoustical properties of the environment they were recorded within in addition to the frequency, phase and other physical effects of the "head". When they are played back in a room over speakers those properties are convolved with the acoustic response of the room as well as the speakers frequency response and directionality properties. i.e. they don't sound right. It's rather like making a recording in a "very live" room and then during playback adding convolution reverb that models a completely different room.

Bottom line, the acoustical characteristics of stage pianos and such, are normally designed to sound best in larger environments over external speaker systems (where flat frequency response is not their primary goal), and certainly not headphones. Pianos for home use are normally designed to sound best using their built-in speaker systems in smaller rooms that would typically be found in homes. Only a few products have been produced with additional, separate binaural recordings (sample sets) actually designed to optimize headphone use. Hence, when someone "reviews" or comments on how a software piano (or DP) sounds using headphones I just cringe and ignore it. I never use headphones when playing my pianos unless it's the dead of night with people sleeping in the house and I just can't stand to wait for tomorrow.
_________________________
Macy

CVP-409GP, Vintage D, Ivory II GP's & American Concert D, True Keys American D, Ravenscroft 275, Garritan Authorized Steinway, Alicia's Keys, EWQL Pianos, MainStage, iPad/forScore/PageFlip Cicada, Custom Mac MIDI/Audio Software Design, Macs Everywhere

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#2391493 - Today at 02:58 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
dire tonic Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1738
Loc: uk south
On interfaces, I don't claim to have superhuman hearing nor am I particularly wanting (maybe I'm missing half an octave at the top end through creeping decrepitude) but I can't discern a dot of difference between either of my audio interfaces (UR22 and the dirt-cheap Behringer - UAC222 or something like that) or the internal sound card.

With headphones, I usually add a dash of small room reverb - mostly early reflections. It needs to be subtle but I find it so convincing I could swear I'm listening on my monitors and have to remove the headphones to be sure the monitors aren't making a contribution.

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#2391503 - Today at 03:37 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: dire tonic]
RaggedKeyPresser Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 03/14/14
Posts: 159
Originally Posted By dire tonic
On interfaces, I don't claim to have superhuman hearing nor am I particularly wanting (maybe I'm missing half an octave at the top end through creeping decrepitude) but I can't discern a dot of difference between either of my audio interfaces (UR22 and the dirt-cheap Behringer - UAC222 or something like that) or the internal sound card.

With headphones, I usually add a dash of small room reverb - mostly early reflections. It needs to be subtle but I find it so convincing I could swear I'm listening on my monitors and have to remove the headphones to be sure the monitors aren't making a contribution.


That really intrigues me, Dire Tonic. What kind of speakers are you using and are they setup in an acoustically friendly environment?
And what kind of headphones are you using?
I have a pair of Koss Pro4AA Titanium Professional Stereophones (very impressive name, surely). I have no idea of how "good" they are considered to be, but surely some distance up from the bottom of the heap.
I've used my monitors exclusively for everything after I bought them. It takes quite some time for the ears and senses to "tune" into them and learn how to use them,and what is possible to listen for. They sharpen your listening senses (something I didn't understand before getting them).
And now finally to the point.
One day I thought I would use the headphones for checking out the details of some material I had put together, to see if it would show up better in the headphones. And it was quite a shock to hear how bad they were! I found them totally useless and got them off pretty quick!
I still use them while recording vocals and they work well for that, because then I just use them as a guide and reference in timing and place and I'm not really listening to sound quality.
_________________________
Yamaha U7,Motif XS88, Genelec 8040's,sampled B�sendorfer 290 Imperial
Loads of other software instruments,Quadraphonic sound system.
Ending John Brimhall's Piano Method,book 5.
Started Book 1 of The Grand Conservatory method for the piano,1885 edition.

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#2391504 - Today at 03:42 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
peterws Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/21/12
Posts: 4072
Loc: Northern England.
Have you tried using your FP7 piano with the software piano together? You`ll get the effect of multiple strings at work here. I do this in my own set up and the results are impressively acousticky . . like a new dimension. I use Pianoteq 5 (K2 under lid) through the DP speakers. Deep and powerful.
_________________________
"I'm playing all the right notes � but not necessarily in the right order." Eric Morecambe

""

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#2391515 - Today at 04:46 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: RaggedKeyPresser]
dire tonic Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1738
Loc: uk south
Originally Posted By RaggedKeyPresser
What kind of speakers are you using and are they setup in an acoustically friendly environment?
And what kind of headphones are you using?
I have a pair of Koss Pro4AA Titanium Professional Stereophones (very impressive name, surely). I have no idea of how "good" they are considered to be, but surely some distance up from the bottom of the heap.

I'm using Focal Alpha 50s, carelessly in a non-treated room. They're nearfield and have no offending resonances I can hear. I like them a lot but they're way down the league compared to your Genelecs.

I use sennheiser HD595 and, for comfort, an old cheapo pair of PX100s. I'm not aiming here to mimic the monitors although there's a sense in which I think they're exceeded. I participated in a couple of ABF recitals and was struck by the AP entries. Most were recorded willy nilly but they all had that AP sound of which, to my ears, the roominess forms a vital part. I'm trying to get that 'informal' recital sound - the big hall is faintly ridiculous for the kind of stuff I play!

The PX100s have helped add to the illusion since they weigh almost nothing and are surprisingly uncoloured. I'm still experimenting with the room effect but I usually prefer something bigger than the room itself while minimising the reverb in favour of reflections. I use vst plugins inside a host rather than the onboard effects that come with the libraries.

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#2391517 - Today at 04:54 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: peterws]
dire tonic Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1738
Loc: uk south
Originally Posted By peterws
Have you tried using your FP7 piano with the software piano together? You`ll get the effect of multiple strings at work here. I do this in my own set up and the results are impressively acousticky . . like a new dimension. I use Pianoteq 5 (K2 under lid) through the DP speakers. Deep and powerful.

I'm in two minds about layered pianos. There's a tendency here and there to get phase cancellation or, worse, with a tuning anomaly, a chorusing effect reminding me of double tracked pianos on pop records from the 70s. On those occasions when I'm bugged by the shortcomings of a library (often!) I'll try a layer. After a while that bugs me to. At that point I usually watch the television.

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#2391529 - Today at 05:59 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
R_B Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/03/09
Posts: 608
I messed around with layering pianoteq and a sample player.
For VERY SLOW playing there appeared to be a "richness" of sound, but fast staccato single notes seemed to have an echo.
I didn't get into it, but I think the delay of the sample player is significantly greater than pianoteq.
I can get a similar effect with reverb and delay lines, so I doubt the utility of this layering - other than that it MAY sound a bit like two DIFFERENT pianos and two pianists with one playing a bit later than the other.
It probably becomes annoying after a while, though its judicious use in post processing recording might be useful.

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#2391533 - Today at 06:17 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
R_B Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/03/09
Posts: 608
Let us not forget that even a top tier LARGE acoustic piano in perfect tune can sound terrible in SOME settings.
Hard furnishings, between hard parallel walls, low hard ceilings over hardwood floors, etc.
It can just be TOO MUCH piano for TOO LITTLE space.

How close to a physical model D modeling or sampling could come is irrelevant in THIS house.
A REAL model D would make the walls ring for an hour after closing the lid.


Edited by R_B (Today at 06:19 AM)

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#2391536 - Today at 06:33 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: R_B]
dire tonic Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1738
Loc: uk south
Originally Posted By R_B
I messed around with layering pianoteq and a sample player.
For VERY SLOW playing there appeared to be a "richness" of sound, but fast staccato single notes seemed to have an echo.
I didn't get into it, but I think the delay of the sample player is significantly greater than pianoteq.
I can get a similar effect with reverb and delay lines, so I doubt the utility of this layering - other than that it MAY sound a bit like two DIFFERENT pianos and two pianists with one playing a bit later than the other.
It probably becomes annoying after a while, though its judicious use in post processing recording might be useful.

I too noticed this. I haven't tried it with pianoteq but there was often noticeable albeit close flaming when layering some of the earlier libraries. Piano in Blue which has a lovely sound but speaks late was a serious offender. I've found the latest crop all strike well and together. I'm sure these days the developers are acutely sensitive to low-latency demands.

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#2391553 - Today at 07:20 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
R_B Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/03/09
Posts: 608
In re-reading the root post - and then the replies...
I get the idea that we may have been "talking past" the original poster.

My "GUESS" is that what is missing from the desired "lovely ringing tones of an acoustic Steinway" that the O/P wants is the room (hall).
i.e. the sample libraries have been recorded "dry" and some ambient environment needs to be added to bring those "flat" samples to life.

I was about to say "dehydrated samples" and maybe that is a fair analogy after all laugh

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#2391559 - Today at 07:55 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: R_B]
maurus Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/11
Posts: 934
Originally Posted By R_B
I messed around with layering pianoteq and a sample player.
For VERY SLOW playing there appeared to be a "richness" of sound, but fast staccato single notes seemed to have an echo.
I didn't get into it, but I think the delay of the sample player is significantly greater than pianoteq.


Interesting observation. As one of those always bogged down by an acute hearing of latency this makes me think I should try pianoteq some time...

Can others confirm that pianoteq generally has lower latency than sample players (in the same setup, that is)?

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#2391560 - Today at 07:56 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: R_B]
dire tonic Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/17/11
Posts: 1738
Loc: uk south
- yes, but the 'room' rather than the 'hall'.

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#2391564 - Today at 08:14 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: maurus]
R_B Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/03/09
Posts: 608
Originally Posted By maurus
Originally Posted By R_B
I messed around with layering pianoteq and a sample player.
For VERY SLOW playing there appeared to be a "richness" of sound, but fast staccato single notes seemed to have an echo.
I didn't get into it, but I think the delay of the sample player is significantly greater than pianoteq.


Interesting observation. As one of those always bogged down by an acute hearing of latency this makes me think I should try pianoteq some time...

Can others confirm that pianoteq generally has lower latency than sample players (in the same setup, that is)?


I should hasten to add that I have NOT optimized anything toward the sample player, i.e. no storing of the sample player or its sound library on SSD, or even a 10,000 RPM hard disc, no special caching tricks, etc.

Lower "Latency" (in the context of time from keystick strike to sound) in pianoteq may be PART of the reason that SOME people find it more PLAYABLE than sample players.
How that "latency" compares to physical piano mechanical actions, hammer flight times, string excitation, soundboard response etc. .....I haven't read up on all that in a LONG time.
I have always thought of FAST mechanical movement as being in factional seconds or at best hundreds of milliseconds.
Calculations... microseconds if very many of them, nanoseconds if relatively few, but hard disc access latency can spoil all that.


Edited by R_B (Today at 08:20 AM)

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#2391566 - Today at 08:28 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
ElmerJFudd Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 01/07/10
Posts: 205
Well... hmm, the sample based software listens for MIDI, calls for the samples, then plays the sound and goes through DA conversion. Potential for bottle-neck here would be the speed of the hard disk (spinning or SSD) or speed of the RAM if being stored there rather than taking samples direct from disk.

The modeled software listens for MIDI, calls for the code, runs the calculations and then goes through DA conversion. Slow down here would be I'm guessing more complicated passages require more complex calculations. And those calculations take longer at higher sample rates.

Here's how you would test your system, if you are interested.

1 computer, 1 keyboard controller, 1 host (a DAW like Cubase, Logic, Protools, etc.), 1 audio/midi interface (or if your controller is USB and audio interface is fine), a pair of audio patch cables.

1. If your DAW provides Plug-in Latency compensation, turn it off in preferences.
2. Record a midi track of quarter notes and quantize it.
3. Assign Pianoteq to that MIDI track.
4. Take the audio outputs of your interface and patch them to a pair of audio inputs.
5. Record arm an audio track and assign it to listen to your patched inputs (make sure to have software monitoring turned off or risk a feedback loop).
6. Record the passage (essentially making an audio track of your midi track)
7. Zoom in on the recorded audio part, all the way down till you can see samples. Measure how late, behind the grid in samples, the recorded Pianoteq part is.
8. Go back to step 3 and replace Pianoteq with your sampled piano instrument.
9. Continue through step 7 and see how late in samples the recorded part is vs. the first recorded part.
Maybe not 100% perfect test (would need to repeat with complex passages to see if results are the same is the first thing I can think of) – but it will be quite revealing about which instrument takes longer to produce sound.

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#2391573 - Today at 08:56 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
R_B Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/03/09
Posts: 608
Well, as usual; Yes, no and maybe.
Both types have to run on computers that aren't always the latest and fastest, so some techniques are used to "cover" for that.

As I understand it the first portion of samples from the middle four octaves are typically fetched from slow storage to memory at program start-up.
This is anticipatory caching, not just holding onto what was most recently used, also getting what is most likely to be used.
"Tails" (long decays) of samples are only fetched if needed and for 1/16 notes they aren't.

Not ALL calculations are done in the modeled piano, some have been done on large fast computers and are stored as matrices - look-up tables if you will.

How much of which is probably closely held info, but how it affects the playability matters.

I "SUSPECT" that there is some leveling, i.e. the fastest are slowed to match the slowest.

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#2391628 - Today at 11:04 AM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: dire tonic]
Alexander Borro Offline
Full Member

Registered: 06/18/14
Posts: 189
Loc: UK
Originally Posted By dire tonic
On interfaces, I don't claim to have superhuman hearing nor am I particularly wanting (maybe I'm missing half an octave at the top end through creeping decrepitude) but I can't discern a dot of difference between either of my audio interfaces (UR22 and the dirt-cheap Behringer - UAC222 or something like that) or the internal sound card.


I assemble a few high end PCs from time to time, more on request, not for a living, but say 5 a year or, so I've come across quite a range of motherboards in the process in recent years. The onboard audio these days supplied on a decent motherboards in the 100 - 200 GBP range are getting rather darn good I would say.

It seems to be sort of force of habit to recommend these audio interfaces around here since that is what many are familiar with ( I have one ) but I would always question whether it is really needed depending what you already own of course. There are some benefits like the inputs and outputs more suited and designed for instruments XLR, TRS, TS etc and line out so you can have balanced output to your monitors, but the main difference between my own onboard soundcard is undoubtedly the line in quality when I tested it versus my audio interface. As for the rest I'd say it is very close. I tested it against the more recent motherboards too I had my hands on.

I have a tascam which in the same sort of range as the very popular scarlett i2,i4 but I preferred the tascam for a number of reasons ( another story, but it has more more input/output options as well as a mixer build in )

Headphone output, more umph in the audio interface generally but noise level and clarity I find pretty much the same, no noise at all in my setup with either the USB or onboard that I can hear, and it is not as if the motherboard audio could not go loud enough with headphones in the typical sort of 20 - 80 ohms range.

I suspect there is no reason to think that in these budget audio interfaces the headphones amps are anything special when you consider all the inputs and outputs and where the money has to go in making such a product in that price range.

Latency, onboard sound card is slightly faster in the processing stage usually, in fact just using asio4all, on occasions a little less stable if you fiddle around a lot with the panel settings in asio4all, but once configured and left alone never seems to give a problem. It is not as if the supplied audio interface drivers are often that great either when you read al the issues people get. As it happens the tascam driver I use is also rock solid in my setup, but again the same applies, as long as you don't fiddle with the driver settings during sessions too much.

Up to and including 192 K supported on these onboard cards these days is a given, often not the case with USB audio interfaces that are regularly 96K only or less, whether you need that is another matter.

sound quality of using y splitter into my monitors with a fairly short cable 1 - 2 meters, to be honest versus balanced XLR with the audio interface, negligible, no interference or extra noise that I can hear. I would imagine if you had longer cable run that may well change and extra items around that can cause interference.

Personally I love my dedicated PC setup I use for a lot of things over my laptops. Of course it weighs really heavy with extra cooling and severe overclocking, but I ain't carrying it anywhere, and it is very quick with overclock, rock solid stable, perfect for music making.

Other benefits, is also super quiet, there are fans in it but you can't hear them over anything, they are large fans and run at low RPM using cooling blocks, versus my performance laptops that sound more like mini hoover once they start getting under load, admittedly the laptops I own are a bit older but small high performance cases need high rpm small fans to keep cool, that means extra background noise, which I don't like.

I would honestly think twice in this hobby if I had 100 - 200 GBP to spend it on an audio interface and be really clear and ask yourself when and why you need it. If the reasons are clear, by all means buy one, however, I would also point out that you are getting into the territory where you can buy a decent motherboard with lots of USB ports and fairly decent supplied audio, which nowadays is rather convenient.

If you are okay with a tower case PC type setup, l'd highly recommend considering put it there as an investment.

If I had the choice and extra budget I would probably look at a dedicated PCI sound card meant for music, they are a lot more expensive though.

My impression from all of this what I learned so far is I really don't think these budget USB audio interfaces for the kind of setup where you use headphones and/or monitors with a piano using MIDI over USB offer any worthwhile gain if you don't need the extra inputs/outputs when you already own a decent quality motherboard. That comparison may not apply though with more run of the mill Ipads and equivalents that many use, I am not that familiar with them what they offer in terms of audio quality.

My 2 pennies worth.


Edited by Alexander Borro (Today at 11:17 AM)
_________________________
started June 2014, self teacher.
Books: Barratt classic piano course book 1,2,3. Humphries Piano handbook, various others
Hardware: Casio Celviano AP 450 & various peripherals:
Software: Ivory American D, Pianoteq 5.1.4, The Giant, Cubase 6 LE.
My struggles: https://soundcloud.com/alexander-borro

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#2391694 - Today at 02:23 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: maurus]
PtJaa Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 03/14/12
Posts: 243
Loc: Czech Republic
Originally Posted By maurus
Originally Posted By R_B
I messed around with layering pianoteq and a sample player.
For VERY SLOW playing there appeared to be a "richness" of sound, but fast staccato single notes seemed to have an echo.
I didn't get into it, but I think the delay of the sample player is significantly greater than pianoteq.


Interesting observation. As one of those always bogged down by an acute hearing of latency this makes me think I should try pianoteq some time...

Can others confirm that pianoteq generally has lower latency than sample players (in the same setup, that is)?

It all depends on your ASIO buffer size/frequency. If both a sampler and Pianoteq have the same buffer size and frequency on the SAME computer (with the same output sound card selected), the latency should be the same (unless there is something wrong with the sampler). Whether you can achieve the same ASIO setting with a sampler nad Pianoteq is another question - in my case, I achieve the same setting (64 samples/44kHz).

Anyway - it's easy to measure real latency and get real data for your system, if you are curious. Best way is recording a composite stereo recording (into another device or another soundcard), with one channel recorded from your DP and other channel from your VST and then comparing the timing of individual stereo channels in e.g. Audacity - you can separately compute the latencies of your piano apps vs. your DP and then you can compare them.

It has been discussed in previous threads - here .
_________________________
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#2391726 - Today at 03:24 PM Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
maurus Online   content
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/21/11
Posts: 934
Thanks PtJaa, that is helpful. I'm on a MacBook Pro, but what you say makes sense for this platform as well.

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#2391734 - 48 minutes 47 seconds ago Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
jixe Online   content
Junior Member

Registered: 03/13/11
Posts: 2
WOW!!! I am so grateful that you guys have taken so much time and trouble to advise me. I have to say though that it will take me a little while to understand and absorb a lot of the technical stuff. I realise now though that although my audio setup is important ( and my first step will be to get some decent headphones - or at least trial some) there is a LOT more involved in the subjective impression of the sound. I had never even considered the binaural implications or the listening space come to that. I shall probably try pianoteq too. I did like the sound of the Vpiano which I believe is a similar modelled piano. If only I had £30,000 and a detached house for uncontraversial night-time playing!! I guess I have become obsessed by the sound of Diana Krall playing on my Streisand album.
Hey-ho.

Thanks so much again. I shall report back if I make any progress with all your advice.

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#2391738 - 40 minutes 24 seconds ago Re: Why do samples sound different from an acoustic piano? [Re: jixe]
ElmerJFudd Online   content
Full Member

Registered: 01/07/10
Posts: 205
Most of this is very nitty gritty and scientific but really has to do with expectations and perception. One has a particular memory of what they feel an acoustic piano sounds like. Although they all sound similar there is certainly enough variation in timbre from piano to piano in the acoustic world to say I prefer this over that. So, same holds true in the digital realm.

And with regard to latency, of course it's quite low on acoustic piano given how close we are to the resonating strings and body when we play it. But the perception of latency can be affected by a sluggish action and reflections in any particular room. Nothing more frustrating than attempting to play in time but the data you're getting back from the instrument and room is messing with your perception. Hey, that's why large ensembles benefit from the conductor, right?

On the digital instruments, or in this case, the software based ones. In headphones... I personally don't tend to be bothered by 3ms, but 5-13ms I start to feel it right away, and upward of that... 20ms it starts to really feel like cr@p and that you're over compensating, especially on a percussive sound like the attack of a piano. Slow string sounds with a very slow attack envelope, not so bad since we expect to have to play ahead of the beat.

Anyway, nice conversation for the technical minded folks who also enjoy the fine art of playing the piano.

Best.

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